The Deal Goes Down sees a welcome return for Larry Beinhart’s long-standing PI creation Tony Casella. Time has moved on for the detective. Now he’s an ex-PI living in the Catskills with zero chance of living out a happy, peaceful retirement thanks to the bank. His mortgage was bought up during the financial crisis, the repayments rocketed, ever since he’s been playing catch-up. Now he’s deep in dept and the bank is about to foreclose on his property making him homeless.
Tony needs money, and he needs it now.
Serendipity strikes. As Tony is heading into New York by train for an old friend’s funeral he meets a young woman. Madelaine ‘Maddie’ McMunchen is a morning drinker and they get chatting. Maddie opens by asking Tony to kill her husband, Mick. She says her privileged lifestyle isn’t all it seems. Mick is a terrible man, a pig with a predilection for young girls. Tony accepts the job but on the condition that they talk again the next day to be sure Maddie still feels the same way. They negotiate a $20k fee upfront, with $100k to follow from her husband’s estate.
Maddie is sure this is what she wants. Tony makes arrangements to receive the cash, sealing the deal at a carefully chosen neutral location and ensuring deniability if this is a set up. Everything is supposed to stay strictly between the two of them… but Maddie brings a friend along. Liz, a litigation financier, is bankrolling the enterprise. Naturally, Tony is angry at this betrayal, takes the money they have on them and calls it off.
The trouble is that Tony can’t really afford to walk away. After some convoluted steps and Liz’s reassurance, the hit is back on.
Using the knowledge that Mick is a paedophile and with the help of his old police contacts Tony enlists the help of Allison, a sex worker who looks very young. She will play the part of his 14-year-old niece at a social function. They arrange to meet Mick and sure enough he can’t wait to get Allison alone. He takes her for a drive and everything is set in train. Serendipity appears to strike again and it looks like this is going to be the easiest money Tony ever made.
Then the problems start and things begin to unravel fast. From amateur mistakes to crossed wires and double cross, revenge, unforeseen witnesses and behind the scenes vested interests – just about everything conspires to bring Tony down. Some players are unhappy at the turn of events, others think they should be getting a piece of the pie, there are international interests in play, other hit jobs on the horizon thanks to blackmail and that’s without mentioning the Deep State.
This is a classic runaway plot. One thing always leads to another, and every step Tony takes to solve any particular problem only makes things worse. Will he make it out out of trouble and out of his debts? He may be retired but there’s a trick or two in this old dog yet.
You can read The Deal Goes Down as a straightforward page turner – the plot is strong and the characters entertaining enough to allow you to do that. Tony Cassella, the narrator, has a wry take on the world and it’s fun being in his head. The dialogue and action are sharp. There are plenty of crazy scenes and interactions, such as accepting a hit from a stranger on a train, a la Highsmith, but they make sense in context because of the clever plotting, which is a little tongue in cheek. Beinhart likes setting up tropes, situations and characters, and flipping them around.
There’s a heavy dose of satire here which is another layer of fun but also a slightly irritating knowingness/metafictional element. It’s not enough to spoil the overall enjoyment of a well-written crime story, though.
Beinhart has been in the game a while. His 1986 novel, No One Rides for Free, was the first in the Casella series and won the Edgar Award. The author is perhaps best known for his novel American Hero filmed as Wag The Dog, starring De Nero and Dustin Hoffman.
Melville House Press
CFL Rating: 4 Stars